Pleasure from Food – insights from brain responses to taste

Young and older adults experience similar taste sensations, but like tastes differently. This is one of the most evident outcomes from the research by Heleen Hoogeveen. She successfully defended her thesis on November 30th 2016, at the University of Groningen. Her work was part of a TI Food & Nutrition project, called Sensory & Liking, of which the outcomes provide new leads for product development targeted at the elderly. 

Grandmother likes an extra tablespoon of sugar in her tea, and grandfather wants his potatoes with a heavy sprinkling of salt. In fact, many elderly compared to young adults prefer foods with intense taste. Researchers tend to think that in the elderly decreased taste sensation is related to changes in taste liking. “However, we observed that healthy older adults sense tastes similar to young adults, but show higher liking for sweet and salty tastes”, stresses Hoogeveen.“ This is probably because taste liking is dependent on more factors than taste sensation alone.”

Neuronal processes

Searching for a better understanding of taste liking, Hoogeveen investigated the neuronal processes taking place from the moment the product touches the tongue and stimulates the taste buds to the moment people give their opinion on how they like the taste. She and her colleagues were the first to measure (via functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)) brain activity, in 39 healthy young adults (18-30 years of age) and 35 healthy elderly people (60 to 72 years of age), when tasting sweet, sour, salt and bitter at different concentrations.

In contrast to earlier findings, Hoogeveen found no activity differences in brain areas involved in taste sensations between the young adults and the elderly. This indicates that aging per se is not necessarily related to changes in taste sensation. However, brain areas involved in memory and emotions did show differences between the two age groups. “In elderly these areas showed higher activity, which might explain the differences in product appreciation between them and younger participants.”

Hoogeveen also investigated how the amount and composition of saliva affects taste processing in the brain. “Mucin concentration, as a proxy of viscosity of saliva, was related to activity in a brain area coding taste intensity”, she says. “Perhaps this finding could impact salt and sugar reduction tools.”

Optimizing products

According to the PhD fellow, much food product development currently focuses on how foods can retard the aging process. “In addition to this focus on the nutritional value of food product, there should be just as much attention on optimizing the appreciation of products for the elderly”, she stresses. “Our work indicates the need for such research.”

Hoogeveen, who is looking for a position as a researcher bridging science and the food industry, experienced her time at TiFN as very inspiring. “It is challenging to translate fundamental outcomes towards practical applications. In this project industry partners and scientists communicated concisely and effectively to bridge this gap, providing valuable outcomes for us all.”

Does the pupil help optimize perception?

Dilation and constriction of the pupil are not merely reflex responses. Cognitive processes like attention also influence the pupillary light response, recent research shows. Psychologist Sebastiaan Mathôt explores how the pupil can help in optimal perception and received a Veni grant from the Dutch Science Association NWO to continue this line of research at the University of Groningen.

Traditionally scientists viewed the pupil as a more or less passive player in the process of perception, dilating when it gets darker and constricting when there is more light available. But there seems to be more to it.

When the pupil is dilated, a lot of light reaches the photoreceptors in the retina, which would theoretically be beneficial for perception because it means the sensitivity of the resulting image is boosted. So why not always keep the pupil at its most dilated state? Because the lens is imperfect, Mathôt explains. ‘These imperfections become more influential in distorting the image when the light flows through a larger diaphragm into the lens,’ Mathôt explains. ‘So a dilated pupil results in less detail in the projected image.’

Therefore, Mathôt expects the pupil to strike a balance between sensitivity and sharpness of the image. But varying circumstances call for different qualities in perception. Mathôt: ‘As an extreme example, imagine you are at an open battle field. You would not be interested in the exact design of the jacket of your fellow soldiers. Instead, you would want to be as sensitive as possible to visual clues around you. This would call for a more dilated pupil than you would have when you are at ease, on your couch, reading a book.’

Mathôt will test this principle in two lab experiments that are very subdued versions of the battlefield and reading a book scenarios. He will measure how pupil diameter influences performance on these two types of tests.

In the first part of the test, participants stare at a cross in the middle of a white computer screen and are asked to press a button when they see a stimulus appear elsewhere on the screen. This requires high sensitivity and low detail of the image. In the second part of the experiment, people again fix their gaze at a cross in the middle of the screen and are asked to describe stimuli that briefly pop-up. In order to do this well, the subject will need to register a more detailed image of the shown stimulus.

By adjusting the amount of light in the room, giving subjects eye drops that dilate their pupils or having them watch either a white or black screen prior to the test, Mathôt will influence the pupil diameter, so he can analyse whether that tweaks performance in the two perception tasks.

Foremost, Mathôt hopes to simply help the understanding of human perception progress. But he also sees some more practical applications of his pupil research. In a previous study, he showed how attention to either a dark or a light object influences pupil diameter. He now wants to use this principle to see if it could help paralysed people in the final stadium of the neurological disease ALS to communicate with the outside world through pupil size. The system Mathôt is testing for this distinguishes between the letters in the alphabet by giving the unique ‘barcodes’ of alternating light and dark spheres surrounding them. Measuring the changes in pupillary diameter in the patient subsequently indicates which letter they were focusing on. ‘Testing this system with actual patients will probably be the most intense intense part of my research. But I would be really happy if I would be able to help people who are suffering from such a horrible disease.’

Text: Marieke Buijs




When: November 24-25, 2016
Where: De Doelenzaal, Universiteitsbibliotheek, Singel 425, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

The aim of the meeting is to provide a broad overview of recent developments in the field of attention from different perspectives (e.g., animal studies, EEG/MRI, developmental). Talks will be given by experts in the field and are followed by discussions. There is a poster session and other ample opportunities for interactions with the speakers. Questions addressed include: How does attention shape sensory processing and perception? Can we optimize attentional functioning through e.g., brain stimulation or cognitive training? What are important avenues for future research?

Invited speakers:

Prof. Martin Eimer
Prof. Fabrizio Doricchi
Prof. Pieter Roelfsema
Prof. Serge Dumoulin
Prof. Jan Theeuwes
Prof. Alexander Sack
Dr. Mathilde Bonnefond
Prof. Gaia Scerif
Dr. Gustav Kuhn


Artem Belopolsky (VU,
Heleen Slagter (UvA,


Registration can be done through the following internetlink:
Registration and poster submission deadline is November, 1, 23.59


The program is available here: meeting is open for all PhD students and more senior scientists.

EPOS ( is a network for graduate education, with members from psychology departments at the Universities of Amsterdam, Leiden, Maastricht, Twente, Erasmus University Rotterdam, and VU University Amsterdam. The goal of EPOS is to provide opportunities to PhD students for advanced education in the field of Experimental Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience.

Download flyer in PDF format: epos-attention-workshop-2016

Join the Society for the Improvement of Psychological Science (SIPS)!

A new society was recently formed with the aim of bringing together scholars working together to improve methods and practices in psychological science.  The Society for the Improvement of Psychological Science (SIPS) is open to anyone interested in improving psychological research – we welcome people of all sub-disciplines, career stages, geographical regions, and levels of expertise with regard to research methods.
Our first meeting in June 2016 had 100 attendees, many of them early career researchers, who worked together to create various projects and voted to officially form a society.  We now have over 450 people on our mailing list, and would love to add anyone who is interested in getting involved or wants to be kept in the loop on SIPS projects.
To join our mailing list and view some of our ongoing projects (including PsyArXiv, the new psychology preprint server), visit the SIPS website.  You can also see the mission and values statement for more information about the goals of SIPS.  Finally, the next SIPS meeting will be held July 30 to August 1, 2017, in Charlottesville Virginia (USA).  Sign up for the mailing list to be kept up to date about the conference and other SIPS activities.
If you have any questions, please email

Institute for Brain and Behavior (iBBA) – Opening Symposium

Institute for Brain and Behavior (iBBA) – Opening Symposium

On May 23rd, the newly formed Institute for Brain and Behavior (iBBA) will hold its opening symposium in the auditorium of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. The symposium will be chaired by prof. dr. Erik Scherder and promises an impressive line-up of speakers. The full program can be found below.

People who are interested in attending can register here.

Keep in mind that the registration deadline is May 1st and there is a first come first serve policy, as the space in the auditorium is limited.

North Sea Laterality Meeting 2016

North Sea Laterality 2016: The international meeting on lateralisation in brain and behaviour


Registration and abstract submission have opened for the North Sea Laterality conference, to be held on 1-3 September 2016 in Groningen, The Netherlands.

This conference follows up on the successful biannual series of the North Sea Meeting on Brain Asymmetry. Contributions may address functional lateralisation of brain and behaviour, developmental, physiological and neurobiological mechanisms, as well as ecological and evolutionary approaches. We welcome both oral and poster presentations.

For more information, to register and submit your abstract, please visit:

We hope to see you in Groningen!

On behalf of the organising committee,
Sanne Brederoo, University of Groningen

Consortium of European Research on Emotion (CERE) Conference 2016: CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS

Consortium of European Research on Emotion Conference 2016
July 67, 2016, Leiden, The Netherlands
The Consortium of European Research on Emotion (CERE) is an informal organization promoting emotion research in Europe. In even-numbered years since 2004, CERE has organized a conference for scholars of all disciplines doing research and developing empirically relevant theory on the topic of emotion. Previous editions of the CERE conferences were great successes and took place in Amsterdam (2004), Louvain-La-Neuve (2006), Lille (2010), Canterbury (2012), and Berlin (2014).
In 2016, CERE will take place in Leiden (the Netherlands). Leiden is a university city since 1575 and houses Leiden University, the oldest university of the Netherlands. The conference takes place at July 6-7 2016  in the main building of the Psychology Institute, easy accessible by train from Schiphol Airport (±20 minutes) and Amsterdam Central Station (±40 minutes).
Abstract submissions for symposia, open papers, and posters are open from 1st of February 2016 to 6th of March 2016. All abstracts must be written in English. The Scientific Committee will review all abstracts submitted and notice for acceptance will be send to the first author via e-mail in April 2016.
For abstract submission guidelines go to:
We hope to meet you in Leiden for CERE 2016!
On behalf of the organizers,
Wilco van Dijk
Leiden University


Brain and Mind

16 to 30 July 2016 (course starts Monday 18 July)

Course Content

How does the human mind work? We all know the brain is responsible, but what are the mechanisms involved? How do our minds become conscious, perceive, remember and make important decisions? This course provides you with a sound introduction to human cognition and how cognitive neuroscientists research it. Provided by the world-renowned Cognitive Psychology Lab at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, topics include consciousness and perception, brain networks and neuropharmacology, working memory, attention and cognitive control. Moreover, we give you hands-on experience with the state-of-the-art tools and models used to investigate the functioning of the mind. This is your opportunity to plan and run a cognition experiment, measure eye gaze, analyse brain codes from MRI scans and interpret brain waves from EEGs. You will program your own computer task, analyse real data and present the findings. Finally, you look at the practical side. What are the implications of brain and mind studies for design, wayfinding, marketing, health, safety, security and the law? The course includes an excursion and assignment organized in collaboration with one of our design or industry partners in the Amsterdam area.

Who Should Join This Course?

Any student wanting a quick but thorough primer on cognitive neuroscience, a theme relevant in studies as wide-ranging as Law, Education, Communications and Economics, as well as in the exact sciences and computer science. The course will appeal both to undergraduates considering a Master’s degree in a related field and to postgraduate or even PhD students in other areas who are looking for a thorough introduction to the topic.

Course Information

Course level: Advanced Bachelor/Master
Lecturers: Prof. Christian Olivers, more to be announced
Contact hours: 50 (3 ECTS)
Tuition fee: € 1.150

Included in the tuition fee are:

  • Airport pick-up service
  • Orientation programme
  • Course excursions
  • On-site support
  • 24/7 emergency assistance
  • Transcript of records after completion of the course

Discounts and Scholarships

Apply before 1 March and receive €100 early bird discount. Students from partner universities get €250 discount. The Amsterdam Summer School offers 10 scholarships of a full tuition fee waiver of one course.


Different housing options are available both on and off campus. Find out more online.

Amsterdam Summer School

The Amsterdam Summer School of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam offers small-scale courses (max. 25 participants) in a wide range of fields. Our courses are designed to provide an intensive, in-dept look at your topic of study. Besides the built-in course excursions we offer an extensive social programme.

+31 (0)20 5986429

Download the flyer in PDF format

Opening statement NVP-weblog

Dear members of the Dutch Psychonomic Society,

We are proud to introduce the NVP-weblog: an interactive platform, where members will be able to follow the news and announcements related to NVP, but also post opinions and discussions of recent research. We also welcome tutorials regarding tools developed by our members. We strive to create an  online community of members actively involved in the issues important to NVP.

This weblog replaces the journal of the society – ‘de Psychonoom’. For many years ‘de Psychonoom’, led by a small team of enthusiasts, has played an important role in informing the members about new developments in the society. We would like to thank all the people who have contributed to ‘de Psychonoom’ in the past and kept the quality high throughout the history.

The NVP board  felt that there was a need for a more interactive forum to exchange ideas between the members of  the society. The NVP blog is intended to fulfill this role. The NVP blog will have an editorial staff who will solicit contributions, but will also evaluate submissions by  the members. Each contribution will receive a DOI (digital object identifier), so it will be possible to  cite any  particular contribution. We strive to gain an indexation from Medline or Web of Science. Every two months, all contributions will be listed in an email newsletter distributed amongst our members.

So, have you recently received a prestigious grant? Have you published an interesting paper? Do you want to express your opinion about a hot topic? Will you soon defend your PhD thesis? Do not hesitate to submit your contribution at